Anyone who’s ever watched a seedling burst into life or felt the after-effects of a day planting, weeding, mowing lawns or pruning a tree will relate to a certain sense of achievement.
Enjoying the outdoors is part and parcel of living in the Hills and Hawkesbury, so the question has to be asked — in a growing community with new housing options, how do homeowners continue to experience the simple pleasure of staying connected to the earth?
From smaller land lots to apartment projects, the big Australian backyard is becoming a less familiar sight. But that doesn’t mean our desire for outdoor spaces has dampened.
In fact, growing evidence from researchers, industry experts and householders themselves shows that having space to dig in, sit in or simply take in some sun, is topping the list of must-haves when it comes to apartment living.
However, the simple pleasure of staying connected to the earth when metres off the ground can be a bit of a conundrum. So savvy developers need to ensure green is an essential part of the colour scheme in new communities.
One developer — Capital Bluestone — has even gone as far as redesigning some of the balcony areas of the Esplanade development in Norwest to better meet demands of local buyers.
Capital Bluestone general manager of design, Frank Xuereb, says the company was quick respond to purchasers’ requests.
“Our top priority is people — at the heart of everything we do is ensuring that our developments are somewhere that people want to live,” he said.
“In this instance, our buyers were telling us that being able to enjoy a low maintenance outdoor space is really important to them. Many will move from larger gardens and they like that they’re leaving the ‘chore’ side of that behind but also like the idea that they can still garden — even on a balcony.”
The redesign of balconies on a selection of three-bedroom apartments saw them converted to winter gardens, with extensive planter boxes added to ensure a green outlook for residents.
Other features of the balconies include a barbecue, servery window for direct access to the kitchen and fully-louvred windows. The redesign also added about 23 square metres of living space to the apartments.
“We asked our architects to take another look at these balconies on some of our three-bedroom apartments to see how we could create spaces that aren’t just landscaped but available to residents to create their own personal environment, the way they want it,” Mr Xuereb said.
Green is good for your health
It’s little wonder that this is what buyers are after, as it’s been proven that whether it be landscaped open areas or a balcony, there are inherent health benefits from being in a green space.
Professor Susan Thompson, head of the UNSW City Future Research Centre’s City Wellbeing Program, says that being in a green space helps to reduce stress and restore our coping functions.
“There are some very interesting theories about this, and research shows that people recover more quickly from illness if they have the benefit of access to green open space — even a view into a garden of greenery helps,” said Professor Thompson.
Industry studies show that access to daylight and outdoor space is considered among the most important needs for residents in apartment living, with a general view that access to daylight has a direct effect on health and wellbeing.
Naturally, there is an incentive for the development industry to provide what buyers want.
“I think that both developers and architects increasingly appreciate that providing great green outdoor spaces in apartment complexes will add a premium to their developments — they will attract buyers who want to live in a great place that is going to benefit their health,” she said.
Get your hands dirty to feed the soul
Leading landscape designer Adam Robinson from Adam Robinson Design agrees that there are many advantages to outdoor living in apartments.
“Being outdoors is therapeutic after a busy day or week, and allows us to ground ourselves, connect, recharge, play and enjoy the simple pleasure of life,” he said.
“As Australians, it’s part of our DNA to enjoy our garden or balcony space, and getting your hands dirty through gardening is good for the soul. Looking after plants, nurturing them and watching them grow is very beneficial and has a therapeutic benefit that has a positive effect on a person’s wellbeing.”
Capital Bluestone’s Frank Xuereb said providing residents with the opportunity to garden themselves was a key part of the balcony redesign.
“Many buyers really wanted the space to flex their green thumbs, and we were happy to make changes to the balconies to accommodate this,” he said. “We understand there’s a great sense of fulfilment from seeing something grow and be able to spend time in that kind of space.”
Adam said it’s also important for homeowners and renters to be able to still enjoy outdoor living even during winter or at night.
“People like their outdoor spaces to feel and function the same as their interior living spaces,” he said. “They want stylish and comfortable places to enjoy time relaxing by themselves or have fun, entertaining friends or family.
“Making our outdoor spaces useable in the cooler months with good heating solutions, or when the sun goes down with the use of good functional and decorative lighting, is a no-brainer. Anything that extends our time outdoors is a good thing in my book.”
The benefits of being social
Frank Xuereb noted that apart from the individual balcony spaces, Esplanade also provides a plethora of common outdoor spaces.
“We have a strong focus on creating a sense of community, and this influences the design and features included in our developments,” he said. “So we’ve made sure there is a multitude of common areas that provide outdoor space and activities, as we know that this is something people value.
“There is an open-air cinema, a putting green, a pool and a lush landscaped podium with barbecue facilities and relaxation spaces. These shared facilities, combined with the individual balconies, provide limitless opportunities to spend time in the outdoors and the sunshine.”
Professor Thompson said not only is spending time outdoors good for your physical health, a shared green space is also important for social health.
“It’s great to see developers include spaces for community gardens in their open areas, as this can facilitate interactions and social connections,” she said. “These are a great example of a green space that has many health benefits, including access to fresh air, exercise and social connection with others.”
Esplanade’s three-bedroom balcony garden apartments include 111 square metres of internal space, as well as 23 square metre wintergardens. Prices range from $1.16 million to $1.32 million. Details:
www.esplanadenorwest.com.au or visit the display suite at 11 Solent Circuit, Baulkham Hills, from noon to 3pm daily to learn more about the new way of outdoor living.